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Stephan F. J. De Wekker

Abstract

Recent field and numerical studies show evidence of the existence of a convective boundary layer height depression near a mountain base. This depression can have implications for air pollutant transport and concentrations in complex terrain. To investigate the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon, idealized simulations with a mesoscale numerical model are performed and combined with available observations. The idealized simulations with a single mountain ridge of various dimensions suggest that the depression evolves in time, is most pronounced in the late afternoon, and becomes larger as slope steepness increases. Observations and modeling results show that the atmosphere is heated more intensely near the mountain base than far away from the mountain base, not only inside the boundary layer but also above. The enhanced heating aloft affects boundary layer growth near the mountain base and is associated with the boundary layer height depression. An analysis of the different terms in the temperature tendency equation indicates that vertical and horizontal advection of warm air, associated with the thermally driven circulation along the mountain slope, play a role in this enhanced heating aloft.

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Stephan F. J. De Wekker and C. David Whiteman

Abstract

Sequences of vertical temperature soundings over flat plains and in a variety of valleys and basins of different sizes and shapes were used to determine cooling-time-scale characteristics in the nocturnal stable boundary layer under clear, undisturbed weather conditions. An exponential function predicts the cumulative boundary layer cooling well. The fitting parameter or time constant in the exponential function characterizes the cooling of the valley atmosphere and is equal to the time required for the cumulative cooling to attain 63.2% of its total nighttime value. The exponential fit finds time constants varying between 3 and 8 h. Calculated time constants are smallest in basins, are largest over plains, and are intermediate in valleys. Time constants were also calculated from air temperature measurements made at various heights on the sidewalls of a small basin. The variation with height of the time constant exhibited a characteristic parabolic shape in which the smallest time constants occurred near the basin floor and on the upper sidewalls of the basin where cooling was governed by cold-air drainage and radiative heat loss, respectively.

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Temple R. Lee and Stephan F. J. De Wekker

Abstract

The planetary boundary layer (PBL) height is an essential parameter required for many applications, including weather forecasting and dispersion modeling for air quality. Estimates of PBL height are not easily available and often come from twice-daily rawinsonde observations at airports, typically at 0000 and 1200 UTC. Questions often arise regarding the applicability of PBL heights retrieved from these twice-daily observations to surrounding locations. Obtaining this information requires knowledge of the spatial variability of PBL heights. This knowledge is particularly limited in regions with mountainous terrain. The goal of this study is to develop a method for estimating daytime PBL heights in the Page Valley, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The approach includes using 1) rawinsonde observations from the nearest sounding station [Dulles Airport (IAD)], which is located 90 km northeast of the Page Valley, 2) North American Regional Reanalysis (NARR) output, and 3) simulations with the Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) Model. When selecting days on which PBL heights from NARR compare well to PBL heights determined from the IAD soundings, it is found that PBL heights are higher (on the order of 200–400 m) over the Page Valley than at IAD and that these differences are typically larger in summer than in winter. WRF simulations indicate that larger sensible heat fluxes and terrain-following characteristics of PBL height both contribute to PBL heights being higher over the Page Valley than at IAD.

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Stephan F. J. De Wekker and Shane D. Mayor

Abstract

First results are presented from the deployment of the NCAR Raman-Shifted Eye-Safe Aerosol Lidar (REAL) in the Owens Valley of California during the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) in March and April 2006. REAL operated in range–height indicator (RHI) and plan position indicator (PPI) scanning modes to observe the vertical and horizontal structures of the aerosol and cloud distribution in a broad valley in the lee of a tall mountain range. The scans produce two-dimensional cross sections that when animated produce time-lapse visualizations of the microscale and mesoscale atmospheric structures and dynamics. The 2-month dataset includes a wide variety of interesting atmospheric phenomena. When the synoptic-scale flow is strong and westerly, the lidar data reveal mountain-induced waves, hydraulic jumps, and rotorlike circulations that lift aerosols to altitudes of more than 2 km above the valley. Shear instabilities occasionally leading to breaking waves were observed in cloud and aerosol layers under high wind conditions. In quiescent conditions, the data show multiple aerosol layers, upslope flows, and drainage flows interacting with valley flows. The results demonstrate that a rapidly scanning, eye-safe, ground-based aerosol lidar can be used to observe important features of clear-air atmospheric flows and can contribute to an improved understanding of mountain-induced meteorological phenomena. The research community is encouraged to use the dataset in support of their observational analysis and modeling efforts.

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C. David Whiteman, Stephan F. J. De Wekker, and Thomas Haiden

Abstract

Series of tethered balloon soundings of temperature and humidity in Austria’s Gruenloch basin (floor elevation 1270 m MSL) on two June days showed that the water vapor mixing ratio fell by 2–3 g kg−1 overnight as dew or frost formed in the basin. After sunrise, the basin atmosphere remoistened as higher humidity was brought down into the basin from above and as evapotranspiration occurred from the basin floor and sidewalls. The latent heat released at night by the dewfall/frostfall was 33%–53% of the overall observed basin sensible heat loss, illustrating the important role of dew and frost formation on the nighttime heat budget of the basin atmosphere. An energy budget equation illustrates the decreasing importance of the latent heat release on the overall basin heat budget as ambient temperatures fall from summer to winter. Because the diurnal temperature range is frequently larger than the late-afternoon dewpoint depression, fog and clouds often form in this basin. The extreme temperature minima that have been previously observed in this basin are expected to be attained only if such cloud moisture is removed. Calculations show that several cloud moisture removal processes may be effective in removing this moisture.

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Željko Večenaj, Stephan F. J. De Wekker, and Vanda Grubišić

Abstract

A case study of mountain-wave-induced turbulence observed during the Terrain-Induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) in Owens Valley, California, is presented. During this case study, large spatial and temporal variability in aerosol backscatter associated with mountain-wave activity was observed in the valley atmosphere by an aerosol lidar. The corresponding along- and cross-valley turbulence structure was investigated using data collected by three 30-m flux towers equipped with six levels of ultrasonic anemometers. Time series of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) show higher levels of TKE on the sloping western part of the valley when compared with the valley center. The magnitude of the TKE is highly dependent on the averaging time on the western slope, however, indicating that mesoscale transport associated with mountain-wave activity is important here. Analysis of the TKE budget shows that in the central parts of the valley mechanical production of turbulence dominates and is balanced by turbulent dissipation, whereas advective effects appear to play a dominant role over the western slope. In agreement with the aerosol backscatter observations, spatial variability of a turbulent-length-scale parameter suggests the presence of larger turbulent eddies over the western slope than along the valley center. The data and findings from this case study can be used to evaluate the performance of turbulence parameterization schemes in mountainous terrain.

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Shiyuan Zhong, Ju Li, Craig B. Clements, Stephan F. J. De Wekker, and Xindi Bian

Abstract

This paper investigates the formation mechanisms for a local wind phenomenon known as Washoe Zephyr that occurs frequently in the lee of the Sierra Nevada. Unlike the typical thermally driven slope flows with upslope wind during daytime and downslope at night, the Washoe Zephyr winds blow down the lee slopes of the Sierra Nevada in the afternoon against the local pressure gradient. Long-term hourly surface wind data from several stations on the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada and rawinsonde sounding data in the region are analyzed and numerical simulations are performed to test the suggested hypotheses on the formation mechanisms for this interesting phenomenon. The results from surface and upper-air climate data analyses and numerical modeling indicate that the Washoe Zephyr is primarily a result of a regional-scale pressure gradient that develops because of asymmetric heating of the atmosphere between the western side of the Sierra Nevada and the elevated, semiarid central Nevada and Great Basin on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The frequent influence of the Pacific high on California in the summer season helps to enhance this pressure gradient and therefore strengthen the flow. Westerly synoptic-scale winds over the Sierra Nevada and the associated downward momentum transfer are not necessary for its development, but strong westerly winds aloft work in concert with the regional-scale pressure gradient to produce the strongest Washoe Zephyr events.

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Stephan F. J. de Wekker, Shiyuan Zhong, Jerome D. Fast, and C. David Whiteman

Abstract

Numerical experiments have been carried out with a two-dimensional nonhydrostatic mesoscale model to investigate the diurnal temperature range in a basin and the thermally driven plain-to-basin winds. Under clear-sky conditions, the diurnal temperature range in a basin is larger than over the surrounding plains due to a combination of larger turbulent sensible heat fluxes over the sidewalls and a volume effect in which energy fluxes are distributed through the smaller basin atmosphere. Around sunset, a thermally driven plain-to-basin flow develops, transporting air from the plains into the basin. Characteristics of this plain-to-basin wind are described for idealized basins bounded by sinusoidal mountains and the circumstances under which such winds might or might not occur are considered. In contrast with a previous numerical study, it is found that the height of the mixed layer over the plains relative to the mountain height is not a critical factor governing the occurrence or nonoccurrence of a plain-to-basin wind. The critical factor is the horizontal temperature gradient above mountain height created by a larger daytime heating rate over the basin topography than over the plains. Subsidence and turbulent heat flux divergence play important roles in this heating above mountain height.

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Ross T. Palomaki, Nathan T. Rose, Michael van den Bossche, Thomas J. Sherman, and Stephan F. J. De Wekker

Abstract

Unmanned aerial vehicles are increasingly used to study atmospheric structure and dynamics. While much emphasis has been on the development of fixed-wing unmanned aircraft for atmospheric investigations, the use of multirotor aircraft is relatively unexplored, especially for capturing atmospheric winds. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate the efficacy of estimating wind speed and direction with 1) a direct approach using a sonic anemometer mounted on top of a hexacopter and 2) an indirect approach using attitude data from a quadcopter. The data are collected by the multirotor aircraft hovering 10 m above ground adjacent to one or more sonic anemometers. Wind speed and direction show good agreement with sonic anemometer measurements in the initial experiments. Typical errors in wind speed and direction are smaller than 0.5 and 30°, respectively. Multirotor aircraft provide a promising alternative to traditional platforms for vertical profiling in the atmospheric boundary layer, especially in conditions where a tethered balloon system is typically deployed.

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James D. Doyle, Vanda Grubišić, William O. J. Brown, Stephan F. J. De Wekker, Andreas Dörnbrack, Qingfang Jiang, Shane D. Mayor, and Martin Weissmann

Abstract

High-resolution observations from scanning Doppler and aerosol lidars, wind profiler radars, as well as surface and aircraft measurements during the Terrain-induced Rotor Experiment (T-REX) provide the first comprehensive documentation of small-scale intense vortices associated with atmospheric rotors that form in the lee of mountainous terrain. Although rotors are already recognized as potential hazards for aircraft, it is proposed that these small-scale vortices, or subrotors, are the most dangerous features because of strong wind shear and the transient nature of the vortices. A life cycle of a subrotor event is captured by scanning Doppler and aerosol lidars over a 5-min period. The lidars depict an amplifying vortex, with a characteristic length scale of ∼500–1000 m, that overturns and intensifies to a maximum spanwise vorticity greater than 0.2 s−1. Radar wind profiler observations document a series of vortices, characterized by updraft/downdraft couplets and regions of enhanced reversed flow, that are generated in a layer of strong vertical wind shear and subcritical Richardson number. The observations and numerical simulations reveal that turbulent subrotors occur most frequently along the leading edge of an elevated sheet of horizontal vorticity that is a manifestation of boundary layer shear and separation along the lee slopes. As the subrotors break from the vortex sheet, intensification occurs through vortex stretching and in some cases tilting processes related to three-dimensional turbulent mixing. The subrotors and ambient vortex sheet are shown to intensify through a modest increase in the upstream inversion strength, which illustrates the predictability challenges for the turbulent characterization of rotors.

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